MIAMI, Dec. 18, 2013âChristmas arrived early for thoroughbred racing. Shared Beliefâs other-worldly dominance of the Cash Call Futurity makes him potentially the best thing to happen to the sport since the decade of champions in the â70s.
I concede I might be getting carried away by a young horse, who has run only three times, never on a conventional dirt track. But isnât racing, especially when it comes to Derby-age colts, about dreaming the dream? Isnât this what keeps owners spending and trainers getting up in the dark every morning?
It wasnât only the breath-taking way Jerry Hollendorferâs horse accelerated away from a field arguably of the caliber of the Breedersâ Cup Juvenile, although that would be plenty to get excited about. His 106 Beyer was about 11 lengths better than the 88 hung up by New Yearâs Day in the BC Juvenile and Honor Code in the Remsen. The previous high for a 2YO was 102 by Havana, sprinting 5 Â˝ furlongs at Saratoga.
Often huge Beyer figs are achieved racing on an uncontested lead. Shared Belief did it the professional way. He sat off the pace, then most impressive of all, allowed Gary Stevens and Candy Boy to surge past him in a bold middle move before picking that rival up with contemptuous ease en route to an almost six-length triumph. You rarely see that kind of adaptability in a such a young horse.
The gelding by Candy Rideâ2003 winner of the mile-and-a-quarter Pacific Classic--impressed the overseas gang at Timeform, too, according to HRTV's Zoe Cadman.They rate him at 124, a figure just below some of the worldâs finest older horses and the best for any 2-year-old in the world in 2013.
Jeff Siegel, whose opinion is as respected as any public analyst in the nation, gushed, âHeâs the best 2-year-old in the country, no question about it.â
But thereâs so much more that makes Shared Belief a gift to racing. Near the top of the list is the fact that heâs a gelding. If he does live up to his enormous promiseâa monstrous âifâ-- he could be around for years as a major drawing card.
Toward that end and perhaps most significant in the big picture, the majority owner of Shared Belief is Jim Rome. The nationally syndicated radio host is the man among the toughest demographic to reach, young males. Heâs the unofficial arbiter of cool. If âRomeyâ thinks racing is something to get excited about, it is. You think Rome will be talking much about the spring classics the next few months?
Rome is on an extraordinary hot streak. He bought a piece of Mizdirection and she won a couple of Breedersâ Cup Turf Sprints. But itâs hard to spend a lot of time talking about an older filly racing abbreviated distances on grass. The Derby trail is another matter. Every major prep, no matter where it is contested, takes on importance as it relates to Shared Belief.
Rome is too savvy a pro not to appreciate football, basketball and baseball are where he has to live. But even a few minutes of Derby talk every now and then will be more valuable than all of the racing intensive networks, which are essentially preaching to the choir.
One caveat: As effusively as I have been praising Shared Belief, Iâm not sure I can write his name down on my Eclipse ballot as outstanding juvenile. In a vacuum, his credentials are impeccable, three-for-three, including a Grade 1 and a Grade 3. The other serious contender, New Yearâs Day, has a maiden win and the Grade 1 BC Juvenile. The latter is the race designed to settle the issue and Shared Belief wasnât there.
But this isnât what gives me pause. All three of Shared Beliefâs wins have been on artificial surfaces. The word that keeps jumping into my head is Dullahan. He won three Grade 1âsâthe Breedersâ Futurity, the Blue Grass and the Pacific Classic. By those standards, he should be considered one of the standouts of recent years. But all three were on synthetic tracks. On real dirt, he was just a horse, with the arguable exception of a someone-had-to-be-third in the 2012 Kentucky Derby.
The continued failure of winners of major Keeneland stakes to duplicate their championship form on mainstream tracks is another red flag.
Corey Nakatani says he has no doubt Shared Belief will handle dirt. But what would you expect him to say? You know the old expression about never counting on a horse to do something he has never done before.
It might be time for the Eclipse Awards to have a separate category for synthetic achievements, just as there is for turf. However, I donât expect much momentum to gather for this idea. With Hollywood Park closing this weekend, Del Mar and the short Keeneland sessions will be the only venues where more than one or two significant races are contested on artificial surfaces.
I wish there was a future bet on the Blue Grass. Iâd tap out on Shared Belief. But until he establishes that he is the same star on real dirt that he is on the waxed stuff, judgment has to be reserved. This includes the Eclipse vote.
Iâm going to have to think hard on this one.